Building on a previous study (Shen, 2010), this paper investigates the effectiveness of fear- versus empathy-arousing antismoking PSAs and examines the roles of message-induced fear and state empathy in persuasion. Twelve professionally produced antismoking PSAs were used as stimuli messages in a 3 (message type: empathy, fear vs. control) × 4 (messages) mixed design study. The 260 participants were randomly assigned to each message type and watched four PSAs presented in a random sequence. Results from multilevel modeling analyses showed that empathy-arousing messages are potentially more effective than fear-arousing ones. Both fear and state empathy were found to have a positive direct effect on persuasion. However, fear also had a negative indirect impact on persuasion by activating psychological reactance, while state empathy also had a positive indirect effect by inhibiting psychological reactance. Implications for persuasion, health communication campaigns, and future research were discussed.
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